The Department of Education announced Monday it will investigate a March conference hosted by Duke University and the University of North Carolina accused of displaying anti-Semitic and anti-Israel bias.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced in a letter to Republican North Carolina Rep. George Holding that she is launching an investigation into the matter. Her letter followed Holding's April 15 request that a federal investigation be made into the conference after video footage and allegations of anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias emerged.
The conference "Conflict over Gaza: People, Politics, and Possibilities" took place between March 22 and March 24 and was co-sponsored by the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies. The consortium reportedly received a $235,000 grant through the Department of Education in 2018, 65% of which has been spent, according to sources familiar with the matter who spoke with The Daily Caller News Foundation.
"According to first hand accounts, the conference had a radically anti-Israel bias. Reportedly, speakers and panelists distorted facts and misrepresented the complex situation in Gaza. A video recently surfaced depicting the main musical performer, rapper Tamer Nafar, singing a brazenly anti-semitic [sic] song," Holding wrote in his April 15 letter to DeVos.
DeVos told Holding on Monday she is "troubled by the concerns" he addressed in the letter.
"I have directed the Office of Postsecondary Education to examine the use of funds under this program to determine if the Consortium violated the terms and conditions of its grant, Department regulates, or the HEA," DeVos said.
"It is critical that recipients of grants use funds in accordance with statutory and regulatory requirements, as well as for purposes of the program for which they are funded. "
Holding told TheDCNF he appreciates DeVos treating the incident seriously.
"Substituting one-sided advocacy for constructive academic discourse undermines the integrity of our education system and exploits the American taxpayers," Holding told TheDCNF. "Universities have a responsibility to promote free and open debate featuring diverse perspectives and viewpoints."
In a letter obtained by TheDCNF, the Department of Education requested evidence from Duke's Professor Charlie Kurzman of policies, safeguards, budget allocations, processes and any other practices "currently in place" to ensure the consortium complies with the purpose of the National Resource Center program.
"The Department is requesting that you submit the initial documentation within 15 days of the receipt of this letter," wrote Senior Director of the U.S. Department of Education Office of Postsecondary Education International and Foreign Language Education Cheryl Gibbs. "Upon our review of the submitted documentation, the Department may request further clarifying information and may conduct a site visit."
Political filmmaker Ami Horowitz attended and filmed parts of the March conference, which was temporarily disabled. He told TheDCNF it is vital for the public to hold universities accountable for demonstrations like these.
"It is a travesty that US federal funds and state funds were used for an antisemitic, anti Israel hatefest," Horowitz said. "I applaud the congressman's actions."
Nafar has used his music to push Palestinian citizens to vote, appearing on CNN with Becky Anderson to discuss Arab voting in April. Nafar can be heard saying in the video filmed by Horowitz, "Let's try it together," as he invites the audience to join him in song, "I need your help. I cannot be anti-Semitic alone."
"Don't think of Rihanna when you sing this, don't think of Beyonce — think of Mel Gibson," Nafar says in the video, "I'm in love with a Jew/Oh/I fell in love with a Jew/Oh/Her skin is white and my skin is brown, she was going up, up and I was going down."
"You look beautifully anti-Semitic," Nafar told the crowd.
"UNC-Chapel Hill will continue to work with the U.S. Department of Education to directly answer any questions about the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies," a UNC spokesperson told TheDCNF.
The spokeswoman added that "while the Consortium initially budgeted $5,000 in grant funds for the conference, as has been reported, a review of the expenditures found that ultimately less than $200 were used to support the conference."
Duke and the Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Daily Caller News Foundation. Nafar could not be immediately reached for comment.